well-established international Christian
student group is being denied recognition at almost two dozen California
college campuses because it requires leaders to adhere to Christian beliefs,
effectively closing its leadership ranks to non-Christians and gays.
California State University, which has 23
campuses, is “de-recognizing” local chapters of InterVarsity Christian
Fellowship, an evangelical Christian group with 860 chapters in the United
States. The university system says InterVarsity’s leadership policy
conflicts with its state-mandated nondiscrimination policy requiring membership
and leadership in all official student groups be open to all.
“For an organization to be recognized, they must
sign a general nondiscrimination policy,” said Mike Uhlencamp, director of
public affairs for the California State University system. “We have engaged
with (InterVarsity) for the better part of a year and informed them they would
have to sign a general nondiscrimination statement. They have not.”
InterVarsity, active in the United States since
1947, has been challenged on more than 40 college campuses, but CSU, with
447,000 students, is the largest to ban it so far. Other schools that have
challenged InterVarsity include Vanderbilt University, Rollins College, and
The challenges stem from a 2010 Supreme Court
decision that ruled a public college can refuse to recognize a religious
student organization with an “all-comers” policy if its religious beliefs are
InterVarsity policy states membership is open to
all, but leaders must affirm its “doctrinal basis,” which declares belief in
“the entire trustworthiness” of the Bible. Many Christians who read the Bible
literally also argue it prohibits homosexuality.
Some campuses have reached an agreement with
InterVarsity that permit chapters to remain on individual campuses. Ohio State
University rewrote its student organization registration guidelines to
read, “A student organization formed to foster or affirm the sincerely
held religious beliefs of its members may adopt eligibility criteria for its
Student Officers that are consistent with those beliefs.”
Other religiously oriented student groups have
signed nondiscrimination policies where required, including Jewish, Catholic,
mainline Protestant and Muslim groups. Hillel, the largest Jewish student
organization, reports some local chapters have elected non-Jews to some posts.
In a video statement posted to the InterVarsity
website, spokesman Greg Jao said the CSU decision means local chapters will
lose access to on-campus meeting rooms, student fairs and other official school
functions. He estimates the annual cost of covering those losses will be about
$20,000 per chapter.
But Uhlencamp said, in effect, the impact will be
much less. “We are not disbanding them, they have not been removed from any of
our campuses,” he said. “They are just not an officially recognized student
organization. They will still have access to meeting rooms, they just will not
receive as steep a discount.”
He noted the school’s policy dates to 1972 and is
mandated by state law.
CSU originally notified InterVarsity that its
policy put it in conflict with university rules a year ago and then gave the
group one year to respond. In his video statement, Jao said changing
InterVarsity’s leadership policy would undermine its Christian foundation.
“We don’t believe we can affirm a policy that
forces us to compromise Gospel faith and Christian integrity without
undermining our commitment to help students become real world changers, not
just world accommodators,” he said.